Review: Belmond La Samanna, St Martin (Caribbean)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, I enjoyed a wonderful trip to New York City and the Caribbean islands of Anguilla and St Martin. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (, 2020): Review of Belmond La Samanna, St Martin (Caribbean)

Characterized by white stucco Mediterranean architecture adorned with lush tropical foliage, Belmond La Samanna is an exclusive luxury resort secluded on Baie Longue, on the island of St. Martin. Modern comfort and effortless island living are perfectly balanced in the 83 beautifully and meticulously updated ocean-view guest rooms, suites, and multi-bedroom villas. The restaurants include one featuring traditional French cuisine and another highlighting Mediterranean cooking. In addition to sunbathing on Baie Longue beach or by either of the two pools, guests enjoy spending time at the spa, playing tennis, snorkeling, or sailing on the Caribbean Sea.

Belmond La Samanna features in my top 10 list of the best Belmond hotels in the world.

Have you ever stayed at Belmond La Samanna? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube video):


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Belmond La Samanna is the only five star resort on the tiny French-Dutch island of St Martin (also known as St Maarten), which is nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The tropical island is a beach-lover’s paradise, but is also teeming with natural, cultural and human riches. St Maarten is the smallest island in the world to be shared by two nations, the Netherlands and France, creating an island with a European-influenced vibe and Caribbean flavor. While the 21 square miles in the north are French, the 16 square miles to the south are Dutch: each has its own personality yet lives happily alongside the other.
  • Only 15 minutes from Princess Juliana International Airport, the property is located on the westernmost point of the island, just to the French side of the dividing line, in a residential area locally known as Les Terres Basses. The hotel’s whitewashed pavilions are set on a cliff, which looks down on and has direct access to St Martin’s most exclusive beach, Baie Longue. This magnificent crescent-shaped, white sand beach – which is one mile (1.6 km) long – is considered one of the most pristine and secluded in the world. Guests can savor the turquoise waters in tranquillity as Belmond La Samanna is the only hotel with access to the private sands.
  • The hotel’s original owner was businessman James Frankel. When Frankel first saw the sweeping view across Baie Longue, it was love at first sight and within an hour he had bought the land, dreaming of building a holiday house for his family. After discovering the area was zoned for a hotel rather than a home, he decided to build a resort where he could entertain friends. Frankel named it after his three children – Samantha, Anouk and Nathalie – combining the letters of their names. Frankel turned to architect Happy Ward – designer of the iconic Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados – who created the resort in the style of a luxurious Mediterranean villa (housing the main facilities), surrounded by a row of cottages (housing the rooms).
  • Heralded as one of the Caribbean’s most elegant resorts for years, the authentic French Caribbean hideaway fuses Gallic flair with tropical verve. Pristine whitewashed adobe exteriors and architectural elements give the hotel a decidedly upscale Mediterranean feel. On the inside, a color palette of pastel blues, greens, pinks and peaches is inspired by the natural tones of the Caribbean Sea, shells and corals and is used alongside intricate and colorful botanical prints on fabrics, artworks, lighting and mirrors. Although the property is more than 50 years old, it has enjoyed many refurbishments, including a complete renovation in 2018, under the direction of London interior design firm MuzaLab.
  • Pathways lined with hibiscus and bougainvillea weave between the 83 whitewashed guest rooms, which are divided into 56 suites and 27 deluxe ocean view rooms. During my holiday, I was upgraded to a lovely, light-flooded suite, which had a large covered patio overlooking the beach, an intimate sitting area, a gorgeous bedroom with divine kingsize bed, and a spacious marble bathroom with walk-in shower, double vanity and deepsoaking bathtub. The suite’s interior was luxuriously and intimately arranged with graceful archways, teak accents and ink blue fabrics. The property also offers eight clifftop villas named after birds, which come with three or four bedrooms, all extremely well equipped with a private infinity pool.
  • Belmond La Samanna offers some of the finest dining on the island. Every day, the chefs source ingredients from the local market and transforms them into sumptuous French and Caribbean specialities. The hotel offers several restaurants and bars:
    • L’Oursin Restaurant is an elegant dining room with large terrace located within the main building; it offers sophisticated French cuisine and panoramic views of the sea.
    • Corail Restaurant is also housed in the main building and serves an excellent breakfast buffet on a a patio beside the main swimming pool.
    • Laplaj is a beachfront, casual eatery, which serves light French-fusion fare during lunch time, and occasionally opens on Wednesday evenings for themed buffets.
    • The Baie Longue Bar – set high on the cliffs, between L’Oursin and Coral Restaurant – is a glamorous spot for Champagne or cosmopolitan cocktail as the sun goes down.
    • Belmond La Samanna’s 15,000-bottle wine cellar, La Cave, boasts one of the most extensive wine selections in the Caribbean. When softly illuminated by candlelight at night, it is a wonderful setting for a private group dinner. The chef will help guests to curate their own tasting menu, complemented by fine wines from the surrounding shelves.
  • Belmond La Samanna features two swimming pools, available to all guests. The hotel’s main, 30ft (10 m) long swimming pool lies alongside Corail Restaurant high on the cliff (although there is no view to speak of because of the dense vegetation). A second freeform infinity pool, framed by rocks and agave plants, is set along Laplay Restaurant and has direct beach access. Most guests don’t spend much time near the pool, but rather relax on the spectacular beach, where the property has set up dozens of elegant loungers as well as a few cabanas around its watersport center. The latter offers water-skiing, kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding, snorkeling and scuba diving off nearby reefs.
  • The candlelit hilltop La Samanna Spa, nestled in tropical gardens, is known as one of the finest in the Caribbean, with many guests making it the focus of their stay. This leafy, tropical hideaway offers an array of rejuvenating and relaxing massages and treatments using Sisley and Pure Altitude products. There are eight cabins, including five with a private patch of the lush tropical gardens. The resort’s other leisure and sporting facilities include three tennis courts, a fitness centre and a yoga and pilates pavilion. Professionals are available for tennis classes, personal training and other wellness instruction.
  • When Belmond La Samanna opened its doors in 1972, getting to the Caribbean island of St Martin was an adventure in itself. There were no direct flights and only one road around the island. But La Samanna swiftly made its name among celebrities and the jetset as the jewel of the Caribbean. The Kennedys, Richard Nixon, Diana Ross and the grand dame of L’Oreal, Liliane Bettencourt, are among those who regularly escaped to this magical bay. Today, Belmond La Samanna continues to attract presidents and stars including Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, Robert Redfor, Salma Hayek, Kevin Kline, and Channing Tatum.
  • James B Sherwood, founder of Orient-Express Hotels (now Belmond), is one guest who was to play a key role in the hotel’s history; in 1996 he decided to add La Samanna to his collection of extraordinary hotels and luxury trains. Belmond ranks among the most exclusive hotel brands in the world. The Belmond story began in 1976, when the company received the keys to the legendary Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice. A year later, they began collecting the carriages for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which launched in 1982 to whisk intrepid travelers to La Serenissima in style. Since then, Belmond has grown to a carefully curated collection of travel adventures, each with a rich story to tell.
  • Belmond also manages another property close to St Martin: the ultra-chic tropical hideaway Belmond Cap Juluca on the island of Anguilla (30 min by boat from St Martin). Capturing the charm of the Caribbean, Belmond Cap Juluca recently completed extensive renovations of its 23-whitewashed Moorish villas, taking the already impeccable resort to an even higher standard of excellence. Both Belmond resorts offer an easy twin center stay with a chance for guests to enjoy the serenity of Anguilla and ‘Joie de Vivre’ of St Martin. I suggest you first stay at Belmond La Samanna before proceeding to Belmond Juluca, to save the best for last.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

  • Belmond La Samanna wipes out the hotel competition on St Maarten with world-class facilities and the island’s best beach. The downside to all of this seclusion and reputation is, of course, the hefty price tag, as the Belmond is St Maarten’s most expensive hotel. For example, I paid 1050 USD for my room at the property (excluding taxes); a 3-course dinner will cost you around 100 USD (excluding beverages); and use of one of the full-service beachfront cabanas will set you back a whopping $550 USD.

  • The resort is tucked away in a secluded corner of the island, but, in a way, that is what makes it so unique – private, quiet and serene with its own amazing beach, great dining options, and exclusive facilities. Although the location is part of the appeal for most guests, it’s important to emphasize that the resort is removed from almost everything, so you won’t find any restaurants, shops or night life within walking distance. The resort is a 15-min drive to bustling Simpson Bay on the island’s Dutch side, and about 20 min away from the French capital city of Marigot.
  • The deluxe rooms in the main hotel building tend to be on the smaller side with tiny bathrooms (the hotel designers had to work within the constraint of existing structures in the historic building). Therefore, I recommend to avoid these rooms and book instead one of the suites or villas, which are very spacious.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 9/10
  • Design: 8/10
  • Pool: 8/10
  • Rooms: 8/10
  • Food: 8/10
  • Breakfast: 9/10
  • Spa: 8/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 8/10
  • Overall experience: very good 8,4/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, a fruit basket in the room, and one lunch for up to two people once during stay).
  • Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Belmond La Samanna (and/or receive many free perks).
  • Room tip: as mentioned above, I suggest to avoid booking one of the deluxe rooms in the main hotel building, which tend to be on the smaller side with tiny bathrooms. Beachfront suites are the best option.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

St Martin has a pleasant tropical climate with average highs that hover in the 80s °F (around 28 °C), usually tempered by cooling trade winds. December to March are the most popular months to visit, characterized by warm, generally dry days, whilst the summer months between June and November tend to be more humid, with regular showers and the possibility of tropical storms and hurricanes. The best time to visit the island is April and May, a sweet spot featuring lower prices and fewer crowds.


HOW TO GET THERE

Belmond La Samanna is only 15 minutes from Princess Juliana International Airport. Click here for a continuously updated list of airlines that offer direct flights


PHOTOS
DRIVEWAY
DRIVEWAY
DRIVEWAY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: EXTERIOR
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: EXTERIOR
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: LOBBY
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: THE BAIE LONGUE BAR
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: THE BAIE LONGUE BAR
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: THE BAIE LONGUE BAR
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: THE BAIE LONGUE BAR
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: SWIMMING POOL
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: SWIMMING POOL
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: SWIMMING POOL
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: SWIMMING POOL
MAIN HOTEL PAVILION: SWIMMING POOL
BOUTIQUE SHOP (IN FRONT OF THE LOBBY)
BOUTIQUE SHOP (IN FRONT OF THE LOBBY)
BOUTIQUE SHOP (IN FRONT OF THE LOBBY)
BOUTIQUE SHOP (IN FRONT OF THE LOBBY)
WALKWAY TO GUEST ROOM PAVILIONS
WALKWAY TO GUEST ROOM PAVILIONS
WALKWAY TO GUEST ROOM PAVILIONS
WALKWAY TO GUEST ROOM PAVILIONS
WALKWAY TO GUEST ROOM PAVILIONS
WALKWAY TO GUEST ROOM PAVILIONS
WALKWAY TO GUEST ROOM PAVILIONS
SUITE: OUTDOOR TERRACE
SUITE: OUTDOOR TERRACE
SUITE: SITTING AREA
SUITE: SITTING AREA
SUITE: SITTING AREA
SUITE: SITTING AREA
SUITE: SITTING AREA
SUITE: SITTING AREA
SUITE: BEDROOM
SUITE: BEDROOM
SUITE: BATHROOM
SUITE: BATHROOM
SUITE: BATHROOM
SUITE: BATHROOM
SUITE: BATHROOM
SUITE: BATHROOM
RESORT MAP
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
BEACH
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
LAPLAJ RESTAURANT & BAR
POOL ON THE BEACH
POOL ON THE BEACH
POOL ON THE BEACH
POOL ON THE BEACH
POOL ON THE BEACH
POOL ON THE BEACH
POOL ON THE BEACH
SUNSET
SUNSET
SUNSET
SUNSET
SUNSET
SPA
SPA
SPA
SPA
BELMOND LA SAMANNA AT NIGHT
BELMOND LA SAMANNA AT NIGHT
BELMOND LA SAMANNA AT NIGHT
BELMOND LA SAMANNA AT NIGHT
BELMOND LA SAMANNA AT NIGHT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
DINNER AT L’OURSIN RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
BREAKFAST AT CORAIL RESTAURANT
GYM
GYM
GYM
TENNIS COURT
TENNIS COURT

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2 Comments

  1. Quote: “Only 15 minutes from Princess Juliana International Airport”
    Quote: “CONS & THINGS TO KNOW … The resort is tucked away in what seems like the middle of nowhere”

    I don’t see how those can both be true of the same location.

  2. similar to Mike’s comment, if it’s only 15 minutes from PJIA, then the 10 minutes to Simpson Bay must be a typo. I found the rest pretty much accurate as of a couple years ago. Haven’t been there since.

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